Pro-Palestinian activist from New York pleads guilty to hate crimes for three attacks on Jews

NEW YORK — A pro-Palestinian activist Tuesday pleaded guilty to federal hate crime charges for a series of attacks against Jews in New York City in 2021 and 2022.

Saadah Masoud, 29, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit hate crimes. The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

“Masoud specifically targeted three victims because of their religion and nation of origin,” US Attorney Damian Williams said. “There is no place for this offensive and hateful behavior in this country.”

As part of his guilty plea, Masoud admitted attacking three people because of their Jewish or Israeli identity. He will be sentenced in March.

Federal hate crime charges are relatively rare, and most suspected hate incidents in New York do not result in a conviction.

In May 2021, Masoud attacked a victim wearing a Star of David necklace in Manhattan during mass protests in New York against Israel’s war on Gaza terrorists, prosecutors said on Tuesday when they announced the charges.

The following month, in Brooklyn, he and a co-conspirator assaulted a victim wearing identifiably Jewish clothing outside the victim’s home.

And in April 2022, Masoud assaulted a man, Matt Greenman, who had been carrying an Israeli flag on the sidelines of a pro-Palestinian protest in midtown Manhattan. Greenman had left as a counter-protester.

Matt Greenman after being attacked by pro-Palestinian protesters on April 20, 2022. (Courtesy/Matt Greenman)

Masoud repeatedly struck the victim, who was holding crutches, dragging him across the sidewalk, resulting in injuries including concussion.

Greenman said Masoud followed him away from the gathering before attacking him, saying, “That’s what happens when you’re a terrorist.” Greenman is Jewish and previously lived in Israel.

The video filmed by the protesters showed Masoud following Greenman down a street and yelling at him along with another protester, who called him “Jew” in Arabic and said he had a “dirty fucking flag”.

Investigators said they saw surveillance camera footage of the attacker approaching Greenman and throwing him to the ground, also hitting a woman nearby. Masoud then punched Greenman in the head and face for nearly 20 seconds, dragging him face-first across the sidewalk and pushing away bystanders who tried to intervene, investigators said.

Masoud tore the man’s Israeli flag away. Video from the protesters showed him returning with the flag to the front of the demonstration, where it was kicked and set on fire. The footage appeared to show Masoud as the leader of the event.

Activists against anti-Semitism and bystanders composed shortly thereafter determined who the attacker was, based on witness statements and online investigations, and sent Greenman the name and photo of the attacker, which he made available to the police.

Masoud threatened activists online in a series of messages, including: “I feel sorry for you Zionists when judgment day comes and we slaughter them all like sheep.”

The Times of Israel spoke to Masoud at the protest before the attack. Immediately afterwards, a bystander who filmed the attack shared the footage and confirmed Masoud’s identity.

Masoud was arrested weeks later and charged with hate crimes in July. In investigating the attack on Greenman, investigators uncovered the two previous attacks.

Since his arrest, Masoud has been under house arrest and monitored with an ankle bracelet. Prosecutors said at an indictment hearing last month that the investigation into the conspiracy charges is ongoing.

Greenman’s attorney, Gerard Filitti, told the Times of Israel last month that the conspiracy charge was as serious as the assault charge. The charge of conspiracy, meaning Masoud is suspected of colluding with others to commit the crimes, was added last month. The charges relate to all three alleged assaults and could open the door to criminal prosecution of others.

Filitti, a senior adviser to the nonprofit Jewish advocacy Lawfare Project, highlighted Masoud’s ties to anti-Israel groups, including Within Our Lifetime (WOL), a pro-Palestinian organization that regularly organizes protests to call for the destruction of Israel. The attack on Greenman came at a protest organized by the group.

Anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian activists burn an Israeli flag on May 15, 2021 in New York City. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Jews are more victims of hate crimes in New York than any other group.

“Many of these attacks are not one-off attacks by maniacs on the street, they are part of an orchestrated attempt to target and silence Jews,” Fillitti said. “We know that Masoud is associated with WOL Palestine and that he is associated with others, and especially considering that this attack took place at a protest held by WOL Palestine, the conspiracy charge is very important .”

The April 20 protest began near the Israeli consulate in Manhattan. The organizers called for resistance “by any means necessary” in the run-up to the protest, which was also supported by the activist groups Samoudin and the Palestinian youth movement.

About 100 demonstrators carried Palestinian flags and chanted: “Globalize the Intifada”, “We don’t want two states, we want everything”, “Israel, go to hell” and “From the river to the sea”. For Israelis, the intifada – which literally means “insurgency” in Arabic – evokes traumatic memories of a mass wave of terrorist attacks in the early 2000s. During this period, suicide bombings and other attacks occurred in Israel, killing hundreds of civilians.

Illustrative: Anti-Israel protesters call for an intifada at a protest in New York City on September 17, 2021. (Luke Tress/Flash90)

WOL regularly calls for an intifada and the destruction of Israel at rallies in New York, and has called for attacks on Jewish organizations in the city, including by distributing cards of Jewish groups at a protest.

In May, Nerdeen Kiswani, one of the leaders of WOL, gave the opening address at the CUNY Law graduation ceremony. The speech was largely directed against Israel and “Zionists”. Jewish advocates have said the CUNY system is a hotbed of anti-Semitism and accused the government of turning a blind eye.

Video from the April 20 protests showed them shortly after the attack with Masoud at the head of the march as they burned the Israeli flag.

Before the attack, she said the Israeli flag was “responsible for the killing of countless Palestinians”, led chants of “Zionists who cannot be hidden” and called for the end of Israel “by any means necessary”. She said that the Justice in Palestine branch of CUNY Law was present.

The FBI takes on the case amid complaints from the Jewish community about the lack of penalties for anti-Jewish attackers and criticism of cashless bail laws that often release attackers shortly after they are arrested.

Police stationed outside a synagogue after threats against the Jewish community in New York City, November 4, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

“It shows that the Department of Justice is stepping up the task of thoroughly investigating and prosecuting hate crimes in New York City, where local prosecutors appear to have lost the ball, particularly when it comes to hate crimes against Jews,” Filitti said.

A New Jersey man has been charged with federal hate crimes over an anti-Semitic rampage that seriously injured several Jews earlier this year.

Jews are victims of hate crimes more than any other group in New York City, both absolute and per capita, with attacks reported almost daily, including 20 in the last month, according to the NYPD. The incidents range from assaults, verbal harassment, anti-Semitic graffiti to property damage.

On Saturday, police arrested two men and confiscated weapons and a Nazi armband over what police called a “threat to the Jewish community.” One of the suspects had threatened to “shoot a synagogue”. Earlier this month in neighboring New Jersey, all synagogues in the state were placed on high alert following a threat from an Islamic extremist.